Is School Making Your Kid Sick?

Let’s start with the good news. It’s pretty easy to take care of stress. Yes, it causes changes in the body and yes, it sets up patterns of addiction, but let me say it again, it’s relatively easy to heal.

We’re used to accepting stress-related problems for ourselves but wait a minute… our kids are getting it too.

Over-Scheduled and Over-Tested

“Nearly one in three teenagers told the American Psychological Association (APA) that stress drove them to sadness or depression-and their single biggest source of stress was school,” according to a recent article in the L.A. Times by author and filmmaker Vicki Abeles. Her book, Beyond Measure: Rescuing an Overscheduled, Overtested, Underestimated Generation highlights the problem of students getting physically and emotionally sick from school pressures and methods of teaching.

Author Abeles drew on research by Stuart Slavin, a pediatrician and professor at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, who uncovered “alarming rates of anxiety and depression among his medical students” and began to wonder if this was also true amongst younger students. It was; in fact, 54 percent of the high schoolers he tested had moderate to severe depression and 80 percent of them had moderate to severe anxiety.

“This is so far beyond what you would typically see in an adolescent population,” Dr. Slavin told the school’s faculty at a meeting just before the fall semester began. “It’s unprecedented.”

Research like this inspired Vicki Abeles to create a documentary film and her book, Beyond Measure, and to begin a national speaking tour to inspire educators and parents into taking children’s stress seriously. She warns against hours and hours of nightly homework, over-scheduling children’s after school activities, and in general, the tremendous drive for success that is a part of the culture.

The Sleep Issue

The research went deeper into the problem to discover that by the time stressed-out children reach their teen years, they get two hours less sleep than is medically recommended. In fact, the more homework they do, the less sleep they get. The homework issue has been under scrutiny for a while now, and good strides have been made to reduce homework pressure. The recommendation is 10 minutes of homework starting in first grade and increasing 10 minutes per grade level.

The Problem Drifts Down to Elementary School

Keep in mind that stress reactions in children can be worse than in adults because they just aren’t used to that much pressure. Their whole bodies react to bad situations. And we’re not talking about “good stress” here, the natural anxiousness about winning a baseball game or having to get up in front of the class and talk. That’s natural life stress. When it’s too much, kids bodies really tell the truth in the symptoms they develop.

When a Stomach Ache Is Something More

The well-known problems that develop in elementary school as a result of stress and pressure are stomachaches or headaches, but behavioral changes such as restlessness and changes in eating patterns are also signs. Irritability, fatigue, or becoming withdrawn are additional indicators. It all comes down to knowing your own child’s normal personality and behavior so you can be sensitive to changes. If you notice changes, ask yourself why.

How Some Kids Are Expressing the Anxieties

Education Week reported that children are increasingly hiding out in the bathroom to cope with the stress they feel over the chaotic teaching of Common Core. The article goes on to say that “our sources say young students are finding Common Core math problems so confusing – and the amount of class time devoted to working on them so overwhelming – that they’re looking for ways to escape the classroom just to get a mental break.” It’s not just the testing regime.

Author Vicki Abeles identifies the problem as “high stakes testing” but other psychologists and educators name Common Core itself as the root of the problem rather than individual classroom practices. Recently, a New York survey by the state School Boards Association and the state Association of School Psychologists found that six in ten school psychologists said the Common Core learning standards have increased students’ anxiety. Students in third through eighth grades are given state tests each April. A strong “opt-out of testing” movement has developed in response to these findings.

Opt Out of Stress

There are a few ways to help your children deal with this unprecedented stress. The opt-out of Common Core testing movement helps many children feel more normal again. It gives your child a message that creates a sense of security—we can make our own family decisions for our own safety and security. Perhaps the most effective way to heal stress is also the simplest and cheapest—spend time with nature. Go to the park and count the squirrels, pick up sticks, and watch the clouds. We should put “Go outside and play!” back into every mother’s vocabulary. The health benefits are innumerable and cutbacks in outdoor play mean you have to make up for it in your own time.

If you’re outside you’ll naturally want to breathe deeply, and it really helps. Slow and steady breathing from the center of your stomach activates the autonomic nervous system that controls things like your heart rate to help you calm down. Trees, fragrant flowers, and dirt also have natural substances that encourage deep breathing and good moods. Stay outside for long enough to see your child’s normal happiness return and you will have gone a long way to reducing school-related stress.

Another free and easy cure for your child’s stress symptoms is music. Time to remember to put on some soothing classics, happy dance music, or even a rousing march. Whatever it takes to get your body and mind moving away from thoughts of school.

You’re the Healer

The most important antidote to schools making kids sick is parents who recognize it and believe it’s happening. You are your child’s most valuable friend and champion. The school might or might not change curriculum and testing, but you can recognize its effects on your child’s health and counterbalance the,.

How is your child coping with school stress?

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